As a kid growing up in South Jersey, Dane Eissler wasn’t much interested in theater. Shy and quiet, he found himself drawn to visual arts, which allowed him to express his creativity without performing in front of large crowds.
His perspective changed after a visit to Broadway.
“I kind of hated the idea of theater, thought it was a waste of time,” said Eissler, who is now associate producer of the Philadelphia-based EgoPo Classic Theater. “Then I saw ‘Spamalot’ with Tim Curry. I was a big ‘Rocky Horror’ kid, so seeing Tim Curry 60 feet away from me was ridiculous. And I was a big ‘Monty Python’ fan, so the experience did a total 180 to my thinking.”
Eissler scrapped plans to study animation at the California Institute of the Arts and applied to the theater program at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, a short drive from his hometown of Franklinville.
As a student, he dabbled in all aspects of the stage, in front of the footlights and behind the curtain. His studies included mask work, clowning and puppetry, which allowed him to fuse his early passions for drawing and design with his newfound embrace of the performing arts.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I went to Rowan,” Eissler said. “But it worked out immensely. If I went to a more conventional program, I feel I would have dropped the theater aspect. But Rowan’s program was very movement- and concept-driven, and I learned about people like Pina Bausch and Robert Wilson who are very avant-garde. My education was transformative because it helped me bring out my weird side even more.”
Rowan is also where Eissler met Lane Savadove, the founder and artistic director of EgoPo. After moving the company from its original home base of New Orleans to Philadelphia in 2005, Savadove joined Rowan’s faculty.
The relationship would prove fruitful. But before Eissler put down roots with EgoPo, he lived the life of a journeyman theater artist. After launching his career in Philly post-graduation, where he performed with companies like Azuka Theatre, BRAT Productions and Broadway Theatre of Pitman, Eissler took a leap of faith and moved to Chicago in 2015.
“My best friend Tyler [Garamella] and I were sort of establishing our names in the Philly world,” Eissler said. “One night we were a couple beers in at Fergie’s, and — well, he says I invited myself to move to Chicago with him, and I very distinctly remember him asking me. I said yes. The next morning, I woke up and said to myself, I think I’m moving to Chicago.”
And move he did. During his time in the Windy City, Eissler founded A Dead Whale Productions with Garamella, and got a taste of the local artistic scene. The company continues to exist as a theater collective, and Eissler hopes to mount some of their productions in Philadelphia at some point in the future. It was also where Eissler came out as bisexual, a journey toward acceptance that he said began in the second grade.
Eissler spent a total of four years in the Midwest, although he maintained a connection to Philly. In 2017, he returned to act in EgoPo’s staging of The Seagull, which won a Barrymore Award for Outstanding Overall Production. A year later, he served as assistant director for the company’s mounting of John Guare’s “Lydie Breeze” Trilogy, and took a small acting part in the show as well.
When Savadove offered him a full-time position with EgoPo, Eissler knew it was time to return home for good.
In his day-to-day role as associate producer, Eissler handles production management and runs the creative side of operations. He also manages the company’s touring productions.
He is also keeping his hand in the company’s artistic endeavors. During this year’s Philadelphia Fringe Festival, Eissler designed the company’s production of Tennessee Williams’ rarely performed queer melodrama “And Tell Sad Stories of the Death of Queens,” which then traveled to the out playwright’s namesake festival in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
Next up, Eissler directs the first mainstage production of EgoPo’s season devoted to Sam Shepard: his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Buried Child.” The tense family drama runs Oct. 23-Nov. 10 at the Latvian Society Theater.
Eissler is excited to bring his queer perspective to Shepard’s contradictory world.
“The first couple pages into ‘Buried Child,’ I was like, I know these people,” Eissler said. “Reading about the character of Vince coming home really resonated with me, because I was coming from Illinois, where the play is set, back to South Jersey after creating this huge life in Chicago. I became kind of obsessed with the parallels.”
Eissler plans to continue developing his work as a director and designer now that he is back in Philadelphia for good. “I’ve come to realize that I’m meant to be behind the table,” he said. “I like having my eye on the full world and being able to organize it.”
For tickets and information on “Buried Child,” please visit egopo.org.